5 takeaways from the Patriots-Raiders game

FOXBOROUGH — If the Patriots’ performance against the Oakland Raiders is to be considered anything close to the team’s best effort, there needs to be a careful rethinking of the roster, particularly on offense.

Only the special teams unit played up to its capabilities Sunday as the Patriots beat the Raiders, 16-9, in New England’s home opener, with Stephen Gostkowski contributing three field goals. Ryan Allen averaged 48 yards per punt. There were no miscues from long snapper Danny Aiken, a sign of a job well done. Matthew Slater had a stellar tackle on one punt. It was seamless execution all around.

The defense, which managed to shut the Raiders out of the end zone, struggled on third down (2 for 4 in the first quarter) before pinning Oakland down and eventually being bailed out (thank Vince Wilfork and Logan Ryan), marking yet another slow start. (Oakland finished 5 of 13 on third downs.) But the unit at least got the job done, allowing only 241 total yards, including 67 rushing.

Unsurprisingly, the Patriots offensive line struggled. Tom Brady did not look like he was commanding a Super Bowl contending offense, let alone appear as if he were a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback.

It’s all concerning, which is our focus in these five takeaways from the game.

1. The Patriots are having a hard time spreading the ball around — The Patriots had all of the offseason, training camp, preseason, and two regular season games to prepare for Sunday. That means they not only had the means to get on the same page as far as plays go, timing, and chemistry, but also had extensive time to determine which players could put them in the best position to operate at a high level, something akin to last year’s seventh ranked offense and 10th ranked passing offense. (News flash: They’re not anywhere near that now.) Despite this opportunity, one player coming back from a serious knee injury garnered six targets (three receptions), while underutilized players like Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Tim Wright languished. Between those three, Brady targeted the group three times (one each), resulting in two completions for 26 yards. Amendola hasn’t had a reception since Miami in Week 1. It’s starting to get weird the way in which Brady eyeballs Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman while ignoring everybody else. I think we all understand that feeding both Edelman and Gronk is a good thing, but balance for the offense — which was discussed at length this week — should be the priority because it benefits the offense as a whole. Based on their snaps, the team believes Amendola, Thompkins and even Wright can help contribute to fixing the offense’s woes. Brady just needs to get them the ball, something he has acknowledged now on multiple occasions.

“I think we’ve always gotten better as the season has gone on and as players, gained more experience in what we’re doing,” Brady said. “We’ve got some new players. We’ve got different things that are happening. We’re all trying to get used to one another and used to the things we’re doing and trying to understand the things you’re good at. And then ultimately as the season goes, you work on the things that haven’t been going well and you try to stay real ahead of the things that you are doing really well at and then at the end of the year, you’re in a position to hopefully make the playoffs and do those types of things.

“Right now we’re building our team,” Brady continued. “We’re trying to make improvements. It hasn’t all gone right. It doesn’t go right when we have penalties or turnovers or negative runs. We’ve just got to do our assignment, do our job. We’ve got to do it better and then ultimately that’s going to lead to more scoring.”

This excuse that the Patriots are still building as a team, particularly among its skill players, is quickly wearing thin. The Patriots won’t be afforded the luxury of figuring it out in the weeks ahead when they face the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals.

2. The offensive line’s talent is unbalanced — Bill Belichick spoke enthusiastically about the benefits of using an extra offensive lineman and an unbalanced line, along with its history in football, on Wednesday. But after Sunday’s game, it appears the Patriots are using that extra offensive lineman to mask some serious deficiencies in the group. Nate Solder has seemingly regressed. Jordan Devey struggles in pass protection. Dan Connolly has made significant mistakes at center, including letting pressure right up the middle on Brady Sunday. Even with an unbalanced line at times, utilizing Cameron Fleming as a tight end, the Patriots have struggled to set blocks on the edge. (Fleming was overpowered by Oakland’s Khalil Mack.) So they turned to other gimmicks, running a hurry up offense at times to make the game difficult on the Raiders’ pass rushers. But there’s no escaping these problems and there’s no way the team can pretend like the loss of Logan Mankins, as well as Dante Scarnecchia, hasn’t been devastating.

For the rest of my takeaways from the game, visit Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Vikings game

It’s OK to call this the bounce back game.

There’s so many players on the Patriots roster that bettered their efforts Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. The 30-7 win was sparked almost entirely by the defense, which accounted for four interceptions against former Patriots backup quarterback Matt Cassel, as well as a blocked field goal.

Here’s our takeaways from Sunday’s win, the Patriots’ first of the year, with the defense almost entirely in mind.

1. Chandler Jones much better on the edge — We’ll remember, probably fondly, Chandler Jones’ blocked field goal, which he scooped up and returned for a touchdown. It’ll make the rounds on the highlights. But of greater significance for the Patriots this season will be his play as a 3-4 linebacker. In Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots opted to use him as 3-4 defensive end, something that did not go over well, despite a couple of quarterback hurries. (Two penalties for roughing the passer and $16,000 fine later, it’s really something he even wants to forget.) But on Sunday, as the outside linebacker, Jones showed Matt Patricia exactly how he should be used on regular basis. Not only was Jones able to get to the quarterback, recording two sacks and three hits while tying the team lead in tackles. As that bigger outside linebacker, he was able to brush off tackles, tight ends, and fullbacks to insert himself into running plays, something he couldn’t do as an interior player. That kind of promising effort is only enabled by the healthy return of Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga. Siliga, in his second game, was a regular alongside Vince Wilfork in the 3-4 for the first time and Chris Jones returned for his first action since hurting his ankle in the preseason. It’s safe to say that with this healthy quartet, this is the lineup of players you can expect going forward, much like you can expect Chandler Jones to dominate the edge for the rest of the season.

2. Swapping wide receivers … what’s the difference? — It was nice to see Aaron Dobson make his season debut for the Patriots but it came at the expense of Kenbrell Thompkins who, like Dobson in Week 1, was a healthy scratch. Dobson caught one pass for 13 yards on two targets. In Week 1, Thompkins caught five passes for 37 yards on 10 targets. You can be the judge for yourself on who was better. But my eyes are on Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola, both of whom didn’t record a reception and were targeted collectively once. Something’s gotta give.

Read the rest of my takeaways on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

Roger Goodell embarrasses himself, NFL in Ray Rice video debacle

The Associated Press has blasted a massive hole in the NFL’s story that the league did not see the elevator video that showed former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then fiancée twice in the face.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice for two games prior to the video’s release by TMZ, which sparked further outcry over the light punishment given the juxtaposition against the suspensions of players for performance enhancing drugs as well as recreational drugs. Goodell followed up with an indefinite suspension after the video’s release.

He was already backpedaling.

However, the commissioner’s excuse that the league’s overtures to law enforcement for the video, which he claims were either declined or ignored, is being contradicted now by an AP report that says the league did in fact receive the video and that it was viewed by someone in the NFL’s office.

The person played The Associated Press a 12-second voicemail from an NFL office number on April 9 confirming the video arrived. A female voice expresses thanks and says: “You’re right. It’s terrible.”

Read the rest of this commentary on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

5 takeaways from Patriots-Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Patriots played one half of football pretty good. But there wasn’t one thing that looked good for the Patriots in the second half of their season opener Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

Not one damn thing.

The Patriots were shut out in the second half, defensively inept in the third and fourth quarters, gashed again on defense by Knowshon Moreno in a 33-20 loss at Sun Life Stadium. There’s not much worth retaining from that. Bury the football and file this one in the memory dump.

Besides disappointing fans with a lackluster effort (there was a full blown meltdown on Twitter Sunday afternoon), the Patriots surprised us with an abhorrent effort on both sides of the ball.

As difficult as this might be, I’m going to boil this down to five takeaways.

1. Mix and match, fix and scratch — Bill Belichick said after the game it was the team’s plan to play every single player. That led to the offensive line getting switched up practically every other series. Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer were set at the tackles while Marcus Cannon was set at left guard. But the center and right guard combination seemed to differ on a whim.

The Patriots brass appears to want to extend the tryouts for starting positions into the regular season. While Dan Connolly started at center and Jordan Devey started at right guard, Ryan Wendell would come in and play center and Connolly would shift to right guard.

The obvious inference from this shuffling of players is that the Patriots are unsure about which combo they truly desire. And there’s nothing better than live game action to find out, if we are to continue to infer upon the situation. That led to disastrous results on Sunday, with Tom Brady sacked four times — all in the second half — and six total hits on the quarterback. Everybody was giving up plays on the line and the communication appeared to be shot. Belichick and new offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo need to make a decision about who the starting group is now so that this unit can build cohesion. It certainly appeared that the coaching staff thought they could skate by against the Dolphins. They ought not make the same mistake twice.

2. The 3-4 debuts to substandard results — The new-ish Patriots defensive scheme was supposed to allow for the front seven to bring pressure on the quarterback from every angle. That is not exactly what happened Sunday afternoon. In fact, if you told me a day prior that Jerod Mayo would get the Patriots’ first sack of the 2014 season — and the only Patriots sack in Sunday’s game — I would’ve laughed in your face. I’m sure crazier things have happened. There were only two recorded hits on Ryan Tannehill Sunday, not including both of Chandler Jones’ penalties for roughing the passer. The Patriots looked off kilter all game and there is no easy way to explain how ineffective they were. But what was most problematic was the team’s run defense, which allowed 191 yards to the Dolphins, including 134 for Moreno. (Moreno, if you recall, ran for 224 yards last season against the Patriots as a member of the Denver Broncos.) Lamar Miller added 59. Fixing the run game isn’t easy. And the Patriots could very well be exposed next week against Minnesota and Adrian Peterson.

Read the rest of my takeaways on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

Why Darrelle Revis is the Patriots’ X-factor

Everything hinges on Darrelle Revis.


The Patriots pushed all of their chips onto the table when they signed the 29-year-old three-time first-team all pro to a 1-year deal for $12 million, including an option for a second year at $20 million. And it should be no surprise that the hype has been at full tilt for the Aliquippa, Penn., native ever since, given what he represents for the Patriots: hope.

Revis is a player Tom Brady once said “doesn’t have any weaknesses.” The respect is apparent.

You have to understand, for the past seven years, this Patriots team has been just a few pieces shy of a Super Bowl victory. Every. Single. Year.

Read the entire feature on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

Why the Patriots will win Super Bowl XLIX

In just a span of seven months, we’ve seen Bill Belichick and company make some extraordinary moves in order to position the team to better compete in the AFC.

Scratch that.

The Patriots are better positioned to dominate the AFC. They’ve got the quarterback, the defense, and the skill position players to run the tables. And that’s with a schedule loaded with every AFC playoff opponent from a year prior.

Consider that with every major transaction that the team has made since February, the Patriots have added an element to their roster that has only bolstered the team’s chances of besting the Denver Broncos — the Patriots’ largest threat to a Super Bowl berth — and given them the tools to possibly fend off Super Bowl contenders in the NFC.

Read the rest of this column on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

Week 1 NFL picks

There’s plenty of fantastic games to kick off the NFL season, starting first and foremost on Thursday night with the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks vs. the Green Bay Packers.

Let’s not waste time and get right to the picks.


Packers at Seahawks (-6) — The last time these two teams met each other, we were all subjected to the worst mistake of the replacement ref era. Fortunately for the Packers, Golden Tate is no longer around to catch miraculous — and, yes, unbelievable — catches in the end zone. Unfortunately for the Packers, who surrendered eight sacks in that very same game, the Seahawks still sport the best defense in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers be damned.
My pick: Seahawks


Saints (-3) at Falcons — Sean Payton owns the Atlanta Falcons. He’s 12-2 against his NFC South division foe. And let’s all agree just agree that Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham are a better combo than Matt Ryan and Julio Jones/Roddy White.
My pick: Saints

Bengals at Ravens (-1.5) — I like the idea of Geno Atkins and Vontaze Burfict stuffing the Ravens’ running game. This one will be won in the trenches by Cincy.
My pick: Bengals

Bills at Bears (-7) — Can you really trust a team that names Brandon Spikes a captain? I don’t think so. Notwithstanding, the Bears have a fantastic trio of offensive weapons (Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Matt Forte) for Jay Cutler and have upgraded immensely on the defensive line with Jared Allen.
My pick: Bears
Continue reading “Week 1 NFL picks”

Takeaways from Ryan Mallett’s trade

The Patriots seemed destined to jettison backup quarterback Ryan Mallett long before finishing the job Sunday in a deal that sent the fourth-year player to the Houston Texans for a conditional seventh-round pick.

And while it all was inspired by the arrival of Jimmy Garoppolo — the largest takeaway from Sunday’s move — the trade also represents Mallett’s low appeal in a quarterback starved league and how Bill Belichick will go to whatever length possible to derive value from a player who no longer had a future with his team.

According to the Boston Herald, Mallett was dangled as bait to the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills before eventually being dealt to the Texans. The Texans, who might have been anticipating the Patriots’ release of Mallett in the cut down to 53 players Saturday, were forced to fork over a seventh round pick to acquire him.

Here are some other thoughts on the trade:

– Garoppolo obviously beat out Mallett in training camp to be the Patriots’ top backup quarterback. Mallett finished 14 of 26 passing (53.8 percent) for 161 yards and one touchdown. He had an 85.6 quarterback rating. Meanwhile, Garoppolo was 46 of 79 passing (58.2 percent) for 618 yards, with five touchdowns and an interception. He had a 99.0 quarterback rating. And it was obvious despite being a rookie that Garoppolo had a comfort level that Mallett just didn’t show on the field. He only improved over time, something Mallett did not do.

Read the rest of this post on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Giants game

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Before the Patriots’ preseason finale, there was a trumped up expectation that some of our open questions on the team would be definitively answered. That most certainly was not the case Thursday night.

Instead, after the Patriots lost to the New York Giants 16-13 at MetLife Stadium, there were more questions about the state of this team in its current form than before. And forgive me if I’m being dramatic, but there’s also the future of the franchise to consider. On Thursday night, a window to 2017 and beyond was on display. Here are my takeaways from Thursday’s game that explores these issues.

1. Shuffled line sees at least one consistent presence — Josh Kline played all of the team’s snaps at left guard. He had been an expected competitor for the starting position along with Jordan Devey. Devey played left tackle for the Patriots before he was replaced by Chris Barker (who started at right guard). Marcus Cannon, who was suited up for Thursday’s game, did not play a snap as the team decided to rest its key players. So the likes of Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, and Ryan Wendell were absent from the final preseason matchup. It may be presumptuous, but after a strong start to training camp for Kline, he could very well be Mankins’ replacement. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean Kline, or anyone else for that matter, will live up to Mankins’ reputation as a top notch player. It was a mixed bag Thursday night for Kline and it’s not too bold to say he probably wishes he had a couple of plays back, including one notable sack allowed. Whether Kline is the future, or whether it is some combination of Devey and Cannon, no one knows outside of the organization. There was no way to answer that question Thursday night with what was displayed on the field. Instead, we must wait until the regular season opener.

2. The amazing Tim Wright — The fact that Tim Wright suited up and was able to catch four passes for 43 yards after basically a day and a half with the organization is outstanding. This sport is not like baseball, in which players can simply be subbed in, hit, and be seen as an instant impact. Football requires more learning and chemistry. So it was nice to see him get in tune with Jimmy Garoppolo Thursday in what can only be assumed was a slimmed down version of the team’s playbook on display. Wright can definitely generate some excitement as the team’s flex tight end, lining up detached more often than not, in this pass happy offense. It’ll be fun to see how this develops.

Read the rest of my takeaways on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

Scouting new Patriots tight end Tim Wright

FOXBOROUGH — You’re going to hear two things about new Patriots tight end Tim Wright in the next day.

1) He’s a good barber. (Seriously, we all could care less.)

2) He’s a hard worker. (Tuesday’s talking point.)

What’s more interesting and revealing about Wright is how he converted from wide receiver at Rutgers to tight end in the NFL. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, he rivals the size of Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell (6-3, 210). But more importantly, he’s close enough to the mold of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (6-1, 245) who excelled in New England’s offense as a receiving threat. Wright caught 54 passes for 571 yards and five touchdowns last season, his rookie year.

The New Jersey native did most of his damage in the middle of the field. He caught 38 of his passes between the hash marks, 24 of which were between 1 and 9 yards. When he ventured outside the hash marks, he was less prolific, targeted only 24 times while catching 16 passes.

Read the rest of my scouting report on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.